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Sweet on You: A Filipino Christmas romance by Carla de Guzman

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ARC was provided by NetGalley and Harlequin – Carina Press in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (October 19th, 2020)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Loss of a loved one (in the past), sexism, mentions of divorce (in the past), abandonment, mentions of body shaming (in the past), sex

Oh, I loved this! I loved this so much, with my whole heart and soul. I’m a big softy for books that involve coffee shops, cafes, and bakeries. There’s something that reminds me of home when these elements are thrown in. Throw in the sibling bonds and the importance of family, *chef’s kiss* perfection! Truly, this is sure to make it onto so many reading lists as we approach closer to the holidays. It truly is an adorable read!

Set in the Philippines, Sweet On You follows two shop owners forming a rivalry between each other. When the empty store next to Sari’s cafe sells, Sari doesn’t like the thought of competition or change one bit. Then she meets the owner, Gab, the baker extraordinaire, and in that moment their rivalry is set in stone. Soon, the prank wars begin! But while these two are lost in the tide of pranks, everyone around them begins to question on whether or not this is actually a courtship. And that might be true! Even though they’re knees deep in pranks, they just can’t help themselves from flirting with one another.

🧁 Sari Tomas – The cafe owner of Tomas Coffee Co., who doesn’t like change and tries to avoid it at all cost. But over the next ten days leading up to Christmas, big changes throw her into a whirlwind. It started with Sunday Bakery opening next door, then her younger sister, Sam announced she’s moving out. With all these changes, Sari can’t help feeling everything is moving on with life, everyone except her.

But the Laneaways had wriggled its way into his heart, and the person standing across from him was one of the biggest reasons why.”

🧁 Gabriel Capras – The owner of Sunday Bakery, who’s been trying to prove to his father that he can be professional and financially successful baker. With big dreams and goals keeping him motivated, Sunday Bakery is his first step to making those dreams come true. There’s just one problem, he never expected someone like Sari Tomas to wiggle their way into his heart.

Amidst all the pranks, these two rivals will start to find it impossible to spend their days without thinking of one another. Every thought with flash to some moment of the time these two have spent together, spicing up each others days. Even the hard days will be a little less hard. After all, baked goods and coffee speaks volumes to the soul!

I really loved our two main characters! Their personalities were absolutely fantastic and you could instantly tell the chemistry these two characters had. Both of these characters are like wizards in their own kitchens and the scenes we get of them making coffee or food were fantastic. Also, I really enjoyed the way these two characters talked about their siblings, how much love radiates from them throughout this book, and I loved seeing our main characters reconnecting with their siblings and family. It really warms my heart and I couldn’t help feeling soft, and a bit sappy about it.

“But most of all, I can’t imagine being here without you. You’re home to me now.”

And the way these characters fall in love with one another is hilarious yet so wholesome. They try so hard not to fall for each other and seeing them come together was so sweet. There’s something about a slow fall and then fast that really lures me in. The way the author wrote it, gave me everything I wanted from their romance. They had some hilarious moments, but they had some really endearing moments. The really steamy moments were perfect and there were some moments in those steamy scenes that got me a little choke up. I will say, if you’re not a fan of sexy times in books then this might not be the book for you. There are at least two major sexy moments in this book and if that impacts your reading, just know that those are in this book.

Of course, there’s the food featured in this book. A book has never made me look up so many foods that quickly. If someone were to open my browser right now, they’d just find countless pages of all the Filipino food. The way food is talked about in this book is so heavenly, so deliciously, that I recommend you read this on a full stomach. Otherwise, you’re going to be sitting there wanting to take a bit out of your book. I also loved the way Gab named some of his baked goods after his siblings. I thought that was the sweetest thing and I’m not going to lie, a little swoon worthy.

Overall, I had such a great time reading this snuggly, cozy, holiday romance! I loved so much about this book and I think many readers are going to enjoy curling up with this book. I think this book will really make the reader want to travel and I know this makes me eager to pick more books up by this author. I really loved the culture throughout this book and I’m excited to see what her other books have in store especially if its romance! I definitely recommend picking this book up during this holiday season especially if you’re looking for a book to brighten you day up!

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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A Princess in Theory (Reluctant Royals, #1) by Alyssa Cole

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Death of parents (in the past), loss of a loved one (in the past), grief, abandonment, racism, sexism, talk of animal death and experimentation, disease epidemics, stalking, mentions of gaslighting, colonialism, mentions of colonization, brief mentions of sacrifice, trauma, and poisoning

“If only these pesky spam emails would stop showing up in her inbox, claiming an African prince wants to marry her…”

I mentioned this before in my review for When No One Is Watching, I never read anything by Alyssa Cole before. In fact, I started both of these books at the same and ended up really enjoying both experiences! A Princess in Theory was such a fantastic read. I was pleasantly surprised and I really had a fun time getting to know these characters. I’m even more excited to say that I’m eager to continue on with the rest of the series because of my reading experience was so enjoyable. This book was funny, spicy, enthralling, has important topics, and all packed into this one book!

👑 Naledi Smith – After the passing of her parents, Ledi grows up in foster care with faint, distant memories of the family she once knew. Starting a promising future in New York, as a grad student majoring in epidemiology, she somehow manages to find the balance between working non-stop in the lab, waitressing, and studying.

👑 Prince Thabiso – An actual prince from Africa and the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo. With his parents badgering him to settle down and start a family, Thabiso has been unable to forget the girl who was promised to marry him, who has been absent for most of his life.

These two characters finally come together when Thabiso and Likotsi, Thabiso’s assistant, end up tracking Ledi down to New York. Thabiso decides to travel to New York, not just to handle some business, but to find Ledi and confront her. The moment they meet, sparks fly and from there we see a slow burn romance blossom.

“Everybody wants something from you, but sometimes there’s a person you want to give to. Sometimes what you give them makes you better for having given it. And it makes having to give to everyone else not so bad.”

I loved Naledi as our main character. She was such an easy character for me to fall in love with. From working hard to wanting to succeed in her career, she stole my heart from page one. Despite the hardships she’s endured, she still has a kindness about her and I loved how she kept two lab mice. I thought it was the most precious thing. Thabiso was a character I struggled to warm up to. The moment he lied about his identity, it put me on pins and needles. I found myself siding with Likotsi a lot during parts of Thabiso’s povs in the beginning. However, as we get further into the story, I started to appreciate how Thabiso handled the political game and how we get to see him show his caring side.

The chemistry between these two characters was so good! Ledi and Thabiso click from the moment they meet, and the author does an amazing job at creating a slow burn romance between them. I also loved how we got to see Ledi fall in love with Thabiso, but I also appreciated how Thabiso refused to give up on her. The moments of deep conversation they got to share were some of my most favorite moments throughout this book.

Aside from the romance, we have a lot of important topics being addressed throughout this book. One of the biggest topics we see immediately in this book, is the racism and sexism Ledi endures while she works towards her dream. Every time Ledi is in the lab, Ledi’s white male supervisor constantly puts Ledi in a position of picking up extra tasks and project to pick up the slack from her other colleague. This does get challenged later on in the book and it was pretty satisfying to see Ledi stand up for herself.

Then we have a topic that hit really close to my heart and I did get a little emotional reading some of these parts. Ledi has to experience what it’s like to grow up apart from a culture she’s never known. She sees the imbalances between Thabiso and her family backgrounds. From wealth and power to everyone having more knowledge of the story, her parents, etc… than she does. This hit so close to home for various reasons and I really loved how Alyssa Cole packed so much feeling behind those moments.

“It’s hard losing a friend.” Ledi said quietly. “If it’s your significant other, you’re allowed to grieve. But people act like best friends are a dime a dozen, and if you lose one you can just replace them with another.”

And of course, I have to talk about how well the grief handled in this book. Grief is very much laced throughout this book and I loved how Alyssa Cole added so many sides to that grief. We have Ledi who still feels the absent of her parents and feels the weight of that loss. On the opposite side, we Thabiso and Likotsi experience the grief instantly upon learning about the passing of Ledi’s parents. Then we have the Queen of Thesolo. I think she was my favorite because we usually never see the angry side of grief in books and we never see how those two emotions come together when someone lashes out. We see the Queen target Ledi and treats her unfairly because of her grief and her pain, but that behavior is always challenged and we get a moment between Ledi and the Queen that made me so emotional. I think Alyssa Cole did an amazing job with the grief representation in this book.

Overall, I could probably keep talking about this book with a couple more paragraphs, but I will spare you all! This was such a great read and written so beautifully. There’s so much packed into these pages like the asking for consent, the conversations around colonization, and the bond between Ledi and Nya. Plus, Nya is a side character who’s chronically ill. There was just so many wonderful things that I love. I think many romance readers are going to love this book and be eager to read this series. And I’m so, so thankful that many of my friends recommended I jump on this series!

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Well Played (Well Met, #2) by Jen DeLuca

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ARC was provided by NetGalley and Berkley in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (September 22nd, 2020)

🌹 Well Met ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Talk of loss of a loved one (in the past, to cancer), talk of fertility hardships, talk of heart attacks (in the past), a lot of talk and thoughts of body image, depictions of anxiety, and catfishing

“It all started with a necklace.”

I’m back again with more of the wench life! But seriously, I absolutely adore Renaissance Festivals and actually, I usually attend the Maryland Renaissance Festival almost every year. Every time fall rolls around, I would automatically be plotting, planning when my trip of the year would happen. And of course I would dress up in costume. You can’t go to the Maryland Renaissance Festival without getting into a costume (usually in Elven attire). However, with the pandemic happening, this might be the first year I don’t attend Renn. Fest. and my heart is truly saddened by that thought. So being able to read the next book in this series has brought some comfort and happiness into that hole that’s formed in my chest.

Our story follows Stacy, the other tavern wench from the first book. If you remember in the first book, faire was starting to hit that point of the last round before it closes for the year. And this is where we pick up in book two. As faire is beginning to end, Stacy finds that she’s eager for some change and we quickly discover her friends with benefits relationship with Dex, one of the brothers from the Dueling Kilts, who preform at the Willow Creek Renaissance Festival every year.

But that’s the trouble with faire coming to a close, everyone gets back to their normal routine and that means the Dueling Kilts move onto the next big gig, usually the Maryland Renaissance Festival. So when Stacy is thrust back into her usual routine; working in a dentist office as a receptionist, living the cozy life in her studio apartment, and coming home to the only guy who seems to love her unconditionally (a.k.a. Benedick the cat), Stacy begins to reevaluate her life. After college, Stacy had left her small town life behind and moved to New York where she was going to pursue her passion for fashion, but when her mother started having health complications, Stacy dropped everything immediately to be where she was needed most, with her family.

“And together, that flickering light and that sense of yearning made me want something new. A life on the road. A life somewhere other than here.”

With all of her friends, who have left Willow Creek behind, starting their lives (thanks to social media) and the realization she’s entering her later twenties still single, Stacy begins to feel the weight and pressure of society’s expectations. So one night when she’s missing her summer fling something fierce (and maybe the wine had a little extra help in this), Stacy gets the courage to write up a message to Dex, on the Dueling Kilt’s band page. After waking up with a killer hangover and a lot of mortification, Stacy soon realizes she’s received a response.

One message turns into two, two turns into a week’s worth of messages, and soon we see Stacy live her life through a year while texting the guy she’s falling for. We see Stacy help Emily with planning her wedding, join a book club, and of course, keep cracking jokes with Mitch. We also see Stacy help a lot more with the prepping of the Willow Creek Renaissance Festival, but despite all these wonderful things happening, with the anticipation at an all time high, Stacy begins to question a lot of things.

You’ll just have to pick up this book come this September if you want to know what happens with Stacy because going any further would just spoil the book. If you’re looking for a cute romance with that amazing small town setting (of course, the Renaissance Festival setting too) and the deep roots of community then I can’t recommend it enough! Of course, the romance is super cute too. I really enjoyed the romance and there’s some really good banter in this book. Stacy is also plus sized and she talks about her body, her body image, and her journey with her confidence. I really appreciated that especially myself being plus sized, I have a deep appreciation when plus size representation is done well.

“His words squeezed my heart, and I couldn’t take a good deep breath.”

I also have to talk about the family aspect of this book. There’s definitely a of subplot in this book that focuses on family, family expectations, and how hard it can be to leave your family especially when you feel like they need you to be close. But we also see the other side of that where your family wants you to live your life and chase down your dreams. There was a moment between Stacy and her mother, and I just felt the biggest surge love for the relationship these two characters have. I ended up really missing my own family after that and I ended up sending off a bunch of emails to them. There’s so many moments about family in this book that hit close to home and I really loved that about this book.

I think held back from the full five star this time for plethora of reasons. There were a lot of times reading this book where it felt like Stacy had to do a lot of the work. Relationships are hard, but it’s not a two way street and both people have to make an effort to make it work. I just didn’t see that happening on the love interest side of things. In all honesty, it felt like there was an over-use of the excuse “but I’m not like so-and-so” to not do the work that builds the foundation of the relationship. On the topic of relationship foundation, I definitely felt like there was a huge lack of communication and honesty between Stacy and the love interest. There were times where big, important things felt like they were forgiven too quickly or swept under the rug to escalate their relationship quicker. I think for myself, I would have liked to have seen a more in depth conversation happen between the two, but that might be the married person in me talking (so take this with a grain of salt). And as much as I enjoyed Stacy, there were a lot of times where she felt dated. There were times where I forgot that she was twenty-seven and I just wanted to see her do something that wasn’t predictable.

“You’ll never be alone. Not if I have anything to say about it.”

Overall, I really enjoyed my time reading this book! This was exactly what I needed to feel a bit better with cancelling my Renaissance Festival plans for this year. Also, I didn’t mention this anywhere else in this review, but I freaking adore Stacy’s cat, Benedick. That cat was fantastic, Stacy dresses him up with dragon wings, and I just love that ball of floof so darn much! Anyway, I’m super excited because after I finished reading this, I went to check to see if there was another book in this series. Now, I was saying this for the last handful of chapters of this book and I swear, the screech that left my body was loud enough to make the whole neighborhood wake up. Well Matched, the third book in this series, is April and Mitch’s book and my heart, my soul, and my mind have all abandoned me and are waiting for 2021 to hurry up! I’m so excited and I truly cannot wait for this book!

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

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ALC was provided by Libro.fm and Sourcebooks Casablanca in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published after the release date (July 7th, 2020)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Homophobia, minor scenes of heterosexism, racist remarks, mentions of cancer, mentions of drug and alcohol abuse, mild depictions and mention of eating disorder, mentions and depictions of emotional abuse (parent to child)

Let me say that I truly wanted to love this book. I really wanted to fall in love with these characters, get caught up in the story line, and gush about it with all of you, but this book wasn’t for me. Even though I gave this book the rating I did, this isn’t a bad book. There are many elements in this book that I know many readers will love. This just wasn’t it the right book for me and that’s okay. I still liked some elements and I hope to share those all with you.

Luc O’Donnell is looking for a fake boyfriend. One that’s perfect and won’t make Luc stand out in a negative light. You see, Luc O’Donnell is famous, reluctantly famous from both of his parents being rock stars, once upon a time ago. After twenty years, Luc is back in the public eye and after one bad photo, it seems like his life is about to fall apart. Thus, Luc starts a fake relationship with Oliver Blackwood. He’s absolutely perfect in Luc’s eyes, too perfect, but just perfect enough for Luc to fall in love with.

I really loved some of the moments that Luc and Oliver shared. Some of them were really sweet, really touching, and I liked the way they seem to balance each other out. Luc is fully disorganized, works for a charity for dung beetles, and not the best in social situations. Oliver is the absolute opposite; he’s serious, a barrister, vegetarian, and thoroughly organized. Complete opposites of each other that somehow balance each other out very well.

“I don’t want fine. Fine isn’t enough. Isn’t not about the open fire or whatever other clichés you can conjure up, but yes, I want a connection. I want you to care as much as I care. I want you to need it and want it and mean it. I want it to matter.”

I also really liked the family dynamic for Luc. You know I couldn’t have this review without talking about the family dynamic. Luc has spent his entire life raised by his mother since his mother and father split from one another. Luc and his mother are very protective of one another. There are a couple moments shared with Luc and Oliver or Luc’s mother and his father, Luc immediately becomes protective of his mother and runs defense to prevent his mother from getting hurt. I loved it so much. I love seeing family dynamics where that love and loyalty is fierce, an undeniable powerful form of love.

Despite these fantastic elements, it wasn’t enough to distract me from the issues I had with this book. The first thing that really struck me from the moment I started reading this book was how much I really disliked Luc’s character. The majority of this book is spent with Luc being really terrible to his friends, overwhelming hateful to his estranged father (which I understand, but it was to the point where it was impossible to focus on the story line when that hatred would be shoved into your face in the chapter), and there’s even a few moments when Luc and Oliver are together where Luc is really terrible and offensive. I just didn’t like his character at all. Nothing in this book made me want to sympathize with him or feel very connected to him. I don’t mind a flawed or broken character, but the fact he only had a few moments where he realized he messed up or the fact that it took 75 percent of this book before Luc started having a turn around, I just wasn’t here for it.

Another issue I had with this book was the whole cycled loop of this hot and cold relationship. Luc and Oliver have this constant break up, get back together dynamic and it was the most annoying element. Now, I’m a full believer that two broken people can heal each other. However, there was a huge lacking of communication, a big lack of honesty, and the constant on and off with their “fake relationship” made it hard to believe it was even a fake relationship. Even though their personalities balanced each other out, it was hard to believe in the relationship between them because Oliver and Luc were so up and down. You could listen to Katy Perry’s Hot n Cold while reading this book and it would fit perfectly. While on the topic of the relationship, I really didn’t enjoy how Luc’s best friend kept trying to force them together. It felt very unnatural and near the end it made me feel a bit uncomfortable.

My biggest issue with this book is with one particular scene that’s about 80-90 percent through the book. Oliver and Luc end up going to some lunch to celebrate Oliver’s parents’ anniversary. I’ll be honest, I completely disliked this entire scene. In this one particular scene, there’s a jab at couples who are in situations where they’re being pressured to have children. This rubbed me the wrong way and the apology was far too short to my liking. Then during the toast there’s a sexist remark toward Oliver’s mother from his father. It was never challenge, none of the characters tried to say anything in her defense, I haven’t seen anyone talk about how Oliver’s mother could be “replaced” in their reviews. I had to pause and relisten to the entire passage to make sure I heard it right. Then, the icing on this scene, was the constant homophobic remarks. It’s not challenged immediately, in fact, you have to read halfway through the scene before Luc tries to challenge the statements, but ultimately everything gets brushed off and excused. If we had been exposed to Oliver’s parents sooner, I feel like (as the reader) you would be able to expect them doing something like this. However, that wasn’t the case and it came out so far from left field that when it happened, I was shocked. And homophobia shouldn’t be used for shock value when it’s a serious issue.

“The conversation hadn’t so much died on us as been taken out back and shot in the head. And I knew I should be playing paramedic but I couldn’t quite bring myself to or work out how.”

With all of this being said, I feel like this book would have benefited from Oliver’s perspective. This entire book is told from the perspective of Luc and with that perspective we suffer details because we’re never exposed to Oliver’s perspective. If I’m being honest, being inside Luc’s perspective was draining some of the time and I feel like Oliver’s perspective would have helped add a little more stability to the story as a whole.

Overall, I just didn’t enjoy my experience with this book. It feels like I read a completely different story compared to everyone else. I truly wish I could have experienced the story everyone else has been enjoying, talking and raving about, but maybe I’m too much of a critical reader for this book. However, this isn’t me telling you not to pick it up. Even though my reading experience was bad, I still want to encourage others to pick this book up if it interests you, and make your own conclusions.

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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There Are Things I Can’t Tell You by Edako Mofumofu

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ARC was provided by NetGalley and Tokyopop in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published after the release date (July 21st, 2020)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Adultery, cheating, memories of parental emotional and verbal abuse, parental neglect, internalized homophobia, homophobic comments, abandonment

“And then, like tumbling down a hill… I fell in love with Kasumi.”

I loved this so, so much! You hear me talk about manga so much and I can honestly say this is a new favorite. I love how there’s so many important topics mentioned throughout this book and these two boys, these two cinnamon roll boys are so precious! I just really enjoyed this manga so much and I’m low-key hoping we see more.

Kyousuke Shiina is a talented and ambitious graphic designer who’s secretly in love with him childhood friend. When this perfectionist of a hard worker isn’t pulling all nighters at his office with his team, he’s whipping up delicious food in the kitchen or spending every moment with Katsumi.

Katsumi Amemiya is the polar opposite of Kyousuke; quiet and shy, klutzy to a fault, and disorganized like a whirlwind just flew through (not even joking, those rooms are pure chaos). Katsumi has been friends with Kyousuke ever since grade school, when Katsumi had no friends, nothing to live for, and by some miracle, crossed paths during after school hours and a wishing tree.

“If I’m going to share my life with anyone… I wish I could be with someone who really loves me.”

I loved both of these characters so much. Thanks to a very dear friend of mine, I’ve fallen in love with the grumpy-sunshine love trope and that’s exactly what this relationship is. Katsumi is always feeling the weight of abandonment and lonliness, always in the darkness that his life has given him. While Kyousuke tries to always forge ahead with charisma and determination, always trying to make everyone happy and smiling at what he does. Though these two may be opposites of each other, they balance each other’s personalities so well and work beautifully together. We also have the friends to lovers arc with these two and I loved it so much especially due to some of the time gaps.

With all of this being said, Kyousuke grew up in a household that was very homophobic. Due to the way his father continuously says how wrong it is for someone to be gay or how it’s “gross” leads to Kyousuke internalizing that homophobia against himself. Kyousuke ends up grappling with some deep feelings and grapples with the thought that he’s leading Katsumi down the “wrong path”. So he tries to avoid leading Katsumi on as much as possible. On the opposite side of things, Katsumi has always been open about his love for Kyousuke since the beginning. After Katsumi confessed his love to Kysousuke in the past, Katsumi has no reason to believe his charming best friend could ever find a reason to love him back.

“Maybe the love I’m feeling… doesn’t even begin to describe it.”

I was fully wrapped up in my feelings. I ended up crying during the entire ending of this book and my heart broke repeatedly for these two cinnamon rolls. When they’re together, they just ignite in the most precious way and they deserve all the love. This was a story line that I loved and I appreciate so much. This addresses how there countries out there that still don’t accept anyone who is lgbtq+ openly and how the homophobia is laced all throughout society (even in the homes you grow up in). There’s also an underlying topic of adultery that isn’t often discussed and how media can sometimes encourage that kind of behavior in relationships. I also appreciate that the topic was handled with a woman being the adulterer when far too often we see men being the ones who commit adultery in literature or films. And I have to talk about the fact that Katsumi is bisexual character! I live for books that have bisexual representation in them especially when it feels like literature often forgets about bisexuality and pansexuality (sometimes).

I also want to take a moment to remind anyone who decides to pick this manga up, that this is an adult romance. Yes, there are explicit scenes between both the characters. If this is something you’re not comfortable with this or you’re not sure how to feel, I recommend picking up a different manga. And if you’re someone who is comfortable with graphic yet brief depictions of sex, I definitely recommend this manga! Those scenes were a solid ten out of ten!

“But just seeing him and shooting the breeze and laughing together… That’d be enough for me.”

Overall, I loved this. I sobbed, I died a little inside, and then I was cheering. The story line moved at a solid pace and it was hard not to get wrapped up in the story. I mean, I had to pause my reading to remind myself to hydrate because I was so eager to find out what would happen. And as I mentioned, this book has some great topics and this book also shows that those who feel they’re too broken to find love, can find love. I truly enjoyed this and I think many other manga readers will enjoy this book. A soft reminder, this is an adult romance and there are explicit scenes. But I can’t recommend this manga enough and I’m eager to see more work from Edako Mofumofu.

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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The Devil In Me (Seven Devils #1) by K. I. Lynn

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Toxic relationships, cheating, terminal illness (cancer), loss of a parent, grief, mentions of body shaming, mentions of depression, sex

Whew! Friends, this was spicey and juicy all in one! For such a short amount of pages, I had a fantastic times reading this. It was hot, steamy, and there were some moments where I was chuckling to myself. I should also mention this is my first time reading anything by K. I. Lynn. So this was a great experience and going forward I’d really like to pick up more of her work.

We follow Jared, who has a lot on his plate right now. Trying to manage his business he co-owns with his toxic ex-girlfriend while taking care of his mother who’s fighting cancer. When the weight of these two things collide, he’s done something he hasn’t done in a long time… He goes to church. And that’s where he meets her.

“Until then, I would continue my maddening spiral into hell, lust consuming me until there was nothing left but a devil bent on taking her.”

When Jared met Hope for the first time in that church, it was love at first sight, but a hard desire for her. Since meeting her, Jared can’t stop thinking about her and he can’t rest until he has her. He becomes so consumed by lust and wanting that nothing else will do. As fate would have it, he ends up running into Hope again, one night when he’s feeling his lowest.

Overall, The Devil In Me is a novella that’s part of the BEND anthology. This novella is full of steamy moments, amazing writing, two characters who just seem to work so well together and have a great connection, and the story line was very captivating (I couldn’t put this down). If you’re looking for a hot, steamy read that you’ll fly through then I definitely recommend picking this novella up!

Read for The Reading Rush 💚

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Get A Life Chloe Brown (The Brown Sisters #1) by Talia Hibbert

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Chronic pain, abandonment, anxiety, domestic abuse, minor talk of imposter syndrome

“Bravery wasn’t an identity, so much as a choice.”

I feel like my heart might combust from how much I loved this book. Setting this book down, only when I needed sleep. I mainly picked this book up because of the representation in this book, but I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with this book so hard. My first Talia Hibbert book and I’m completely hooked!

Get A Life Chloe Brown is an ownvoices story about a a main character named Chloe Brown, a plus-sized Black woman who has fibromyalgia and chronic pain. After having a near death accident, Chloe has decided that it’s high time she gets a life. Thus, her ‘Get a Life’ bucket list was born! So she packs up and moves to an apartment complex. The complex is the perfect fresh start to her ‘Get a Life’ bucket list, but there’s just one problem… his name is Red Morgan. Leaving the past behind him, Red just wants to start over and heal from the aftermath of his past abusive relationship. He’s handsome, charming, and the superintendent of his best friend’s apartment complex building. Everyone seems to love him, everyone except Chloe. Then one day, fate makes their paths cross in the unlikeliest way (with one cat stuck up in a tree) and soon they’ve worked out a deal. Chloe will build Red a website and in exchange, he helps her with her ‘Get a Life’ list.

I loved Chloe Brown as a main character! Not only is she’s so brilliantly smart, but she’s brave, sassy, and such a nerdy gamer girl! It was impossible for me not to love her especially as the female love interest. But the main reason I took such an interest in wanting to read this book was the chronic illness and pain representation. I’ve mentioned this a few times, but I do live with chronic pain and chronic illness. Seeing the way the author handled chronic pain and chronic illness in this book with Chloe, it’s so spot on. I haven’t really read any books that have really show how people living with chronic pain and illness live day to day, how they feel, and the reality of how it impacts relationships. I felt so scene and every time something would happen with Chloe, it hit me in all the soft spots of my heart.

“When she was sick and tired of being sick and tired, she clung to moments like this : The first shower after a flare-up.

Bliss should be held on to with both hands.”

Also, can we take a moment to appreciate the plus-sized representation in this book? As a plus-sized reader, I loved the way the author took time to really show Chloe is confident in her body size, how she’s desired by the love interest by her curves, but I think the most important thing I really loved about this book is zero moments of Chloe’s size holding her back or impacting her negatively. I adored how the author handled the plus-sized representation and this is probably going to be one of my favorite plus-sized representations in romance, thus far!

If you’re a lover of enemies to lovers relationships, then you’re going to love this book. I think enemies to lovers is one of my favorite tropes and Hibbert executes it so well. When I say it was near impossible to put this down because of the banter, the chemistry, and the misunderstandings, it was so good. Also, I loved the way it took a cat being stuck in a tree for them to start getting closer. The best way to really hook me, include any situation with a cat. That’s all you need to know.

I also really loved Red’s character. He’s very much a “bad boy”, but the way the author wrote him just stole my heart. He’s a complete cinnamon roll who takes great care about Chloe’s limitations. He’s never possessive or has a toxic demeanor about him, despite him coming off as intimidating and the hardships he’s experienced. He’s charming, respectful and he still visits his mother to check in on her. My heart! Plus, the banter he shares with Chloe and his nickname for her, all the love arrows in my soul!

“You were hurt, and you reacted. You were in an unhealthy situation in more ways than one, and you panicked and cleansed everything with fire. Don’t dismiss your emotions and your self-protection as just a fucked-up decision. Don’t reduce something so complex and real and important to nothing.”

I also want to take a moment to talk about the fact that Red’s character is healing and rebuilding after the trauma of his past abusive relationship. As someone who has survived many traumas, the way Red will have moments where he remembers the past or how he’ll compare Chloe to his ex, it’s all very accurate and well represented. What I loved most was how it not only addresses that the abuser in the relationship was Red’s ex-girlfriend (even more so since those relationships often get overlooked), but also that it shows that while someone can hurt you to the point of feeling broken in all the ways, someone can come along and help heal you from that. I also liked how the author included a flashback scene as well to show that domestic abuse can sometimes overlap into PTSD territory.

And of course, this wouldn’t be one of my true reviews if I didn’t talk about the family dynamic. I loved how Chloe’s family is so close and how they all try to look out for one another. I loved how Eve and Dani check in on Chloe, try to spend time with her, and just have that usual sisterly banter. I also loved how Chloe sought out wisdom from her grandmother, Gigi, for advice on love. Something about the elderly giving their wisdom to the younger generations just always melts my heart. And I loved how we see the family come together at the end. It really fills my heart with so much warmth to see the family dynamics in the book.

Overall, if you couldn’t tell, I’m head over heels for this book. I can’t wait to continue this series especially since there’s nothing but good things being said about the next book in the series. I had such a wonderful experience reading Talia’s book that it has me hooked on wanting to look into more of her books. If you were thinking about trying this series out, let me tell you, it’s worth it. It’s so, so worth it and I have no doubt you’ll love these characters as much as I do.

“Love is certainly never safe, but it’s absolutely worth it.”

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The Perfect Hope (Inn Boonsboro Trilogy, #3) by Nora Roberts

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💐 The Next Always (InnBoonsBoro Trilogy, #1) | ⭐⭐⭐⭐

💐 The Last Boyfriend (InnBoonsBoro Trilogy, #2)| ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Death, loss of a loved one, talk of cheating & adultry, toxic relationship, talk of parental abuse, scene of assault, scene of graphic war themes (Ryder’s dream)

We have finally reached the end of this trilogy. I just don’t want this series to end, ever. I love these characters, this town, and just every bit that went into making this trilogy. I say this all the time, but this really is a great series to read if you’re new to Nora Robert’s work. I truly love this series and it will always have a piece of my heart.

If you haven’t guessed by now, we’re following Hope Beaumont and Ryder Montgomery in this book. Hope was recruited by Avery MacTavish and Clare Brewster to move to BoonsBoro to be the inn keeper at Inn BoonsBoro. Even though her friends are happy to have her and Justine is thrilled to have such a confident inn keeper, Ryder Montgomery is anything but happy about it all. Of all the Montgomery boys, Ryder is the hardest nut to crack. He’s anti-social and can’t see Hope as anything other than a city girl. But after a New Year’s kiss, things have somehow shifted between the unlikely pair and soon they’ll realize what their hearts’ desires are.

“Time with a friend was as refreshing as a nap.”

💐 Hope Beaumont – The inn keeper for the newly redesigned Inn BoonsBoro by the Montgomery. Recently moved to BoonsBoro for a fresh start and the former manager of a D.C. hotel. She’s confident, independent, and right where she wants to be in life…except for in the love department. And constantly sparring with Ryder Montgomery.

💐 Ryder Montgomery – The hardest, most stubborn, alpha male of the Montgomery family. He’s anti-social and hard to figure out, but he’s honest and fair. But there’s only one person who gets under his skin and her name is Hope Beaumont.

💐 Elizabeth/Eliza – The spirit who lives at the historical inn the Montgomery family is fixing up. Waiting at the inn for her Billy to return to her.

💐 Justine Montgomery – Sassy mother of the Montgomery brothers and the head boss over every project the Montgomery boys take on.

💐 Beckett & Own Montgomery – Brothers to Owen Montgomery, Beckett the architect and husband to Clare Brewster/Montgomery, father of three boys and Owen the organizer of the Montgomery family and engaged to Avery MacTavish.

💐 Clare Brewster/Montgomery & Avery MacTavish – Best friends to Hope. Clare is the wife of Beckett Montgomery, mother of three boys with an exciting bundle of love on the way and Avery is the fiance of Owen Montgomery, owner of MacT’s Restaurant and Tap Room.

I say this all the time as well. I love these characters. They’re fantastic and I swear, Justine is such a delightful, sassy, take no b.s. character that I absolutely love. They’re wonderful in their own ways and they’re always there for one another. Even more so in this book. We really see how everyone rallies to Hope and how Ryder stands by her in very specific moments.

“It’s never simple.” Avery slid an arm around Hope’s waist. “It shouldn’t be. Because being with someone should matter enough to be at least a little bit complicated.”

I’m not going to lie, I loved the way Hope and Ryder somehow balance each other out and are exactly what one another need. Hope can handle herself and throw it right back at Ryder when he’s being alpha. She challenges him, gets under his skin, but despite all that, she’s drawn to him because he’s stable and honest. Ryder drives Hope up a wall, always assumes she’s just a city girl, but he’s drawn to her for her strong will and independence. Not to mention, their intimacy and chemistry is 10/10.

Of course, I have to talk about the sense of family and community in this book. Being that this is in a small town setting, it’s very much small town vibes. I really wanted to point this out because even though Hope has Avery and Clare, she’s essentially still on her own in a new environment. So when a certain incident arises in this book, we really see how the Montgomery family flocks to her defense and surrounds her in that family love. I love books that that sense of family and community, the way they rally to someone who has carved out a space of importance.

“But you stand up for me. You tell me the truth. You make me laugh, and you make me want. You let me be and feel who I am. And you fell in love with me even when you didn’t want to.”

We finally get a conclusion for Eliza and Billy in this book. We learn all about them, their story, and we receive a final closing moment with Eliza and all the main characters. While I’m still not a fan of the paranormal element, I liked how their story was wrapped up.

However, I do want to take a moment to address Ryder’s dream though. First, please make sure you practice self-care when you read that section. Most importantly, this is probably the most conflicting thing that could have been added into this book. Despite the paranormal element and how I dislike it, I liked that so much more than this one scene. Now, it might be reading too much into it, but this was an indirect way of trying to represent trauma and possible PTSD. Basically, Ryder is “dreaming” yet he’s really reliving someone’s trauma and death during the war. For those who don’t know, those who suffer with PTSD or trauma can have flashbacks while they sleep. After this dream concludes, Ryder exhibits all the reactions of someone who just had a flashback. He’s woke up drenched in sweat, his heart was pounding, even when he talks with his family later on he says it felt so vivid, like he was living through it. I completely understand why we learned about this person’s death through Ryder’s “dream.” However, a character shouldn’t be having traumatic or PTSD flashbacks if they have never experienced trauma or have PTSD. There has never, ever been any indication that Ryder experienced something traumatic and there has never, in the whole trilogy, been a statement that Ryder has PTSD. So, I was not a fan of this particular scene and truly wish that whole scene had be executed in a completely different way.

Overall, I still enjoyed this book despite the paranormal element and despite the conflict with the trauma/PTSD representation in this book. The epilogue in this book is also lovely. It’s about Avery and Owen’s wedding. However, I’m still holding on to a glimmer of hope that one day we’ll get a novella about Hope and Ryder’s wedding. Fingers crossed. But I can’t recommend this trilogy enough. I love it with my whole heart and I’m constantly recommending it to fellow readers.

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The Last Boyfriend (Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy, #2) by Nora Roberts

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💐 The Next Always (Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy, #1) – ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warning: Loss of a loved one, minor obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), talk of cheating/adultry, talk of abortion, talk of divorce, grief

Friends, this is probably my favorite out of all three of the books in this trilogy. I usually don’t like having favorites when I a trilogy or series, but this book just has my whole heart, and hits so close to home. And even though there’s the paranormal element in this book, it doesn’t have such a huge role in this books as it does with the other two books. And I just really love how Avery and Owen remind me of the way my spouse and I came into each other’s lives. I just love this book so, so much!

💐 Avery MacTavish – Owner of the popular pizza place, but has plans to run her own restaurant one day and wants nothing more than to play her part in helping the Montgomery family. Only she never planned for her feelings for Own Montgomery to be in the picture.

💐 Owen Montgomery – The softest, most organized boy and probably my favorite Montgomery boy. He has minor OCD and shows how things have to be done a certain way or it’s the highway. And in all his organization and needing to have a plan for everything, he never planned for Avery MacTavish to shake things up every plan he’s ever had.

💐 Elizabeth/Eliza – The spirit who lives at the historical inn the Montgomery family is fixing up. Waiting at the inn for her Billy to return to her.

💐 Justine Montgomery – Sassy mother of the Montgomery brothers and the head boss over every project the Montgomery boys take on.

💐 Beckett & Ryder Montgomery – Brothers to Owen Montgomery, Beckett the architect and husband to Clare Brewster/Montgomery, father of three boys and Ryder the muscles, the alpha male, of the Montgomery family.

💐 Clare Brewster/Montgomery & Hope Beaumont – Best friends to Avery. Clare is the wife of Beckett Montgomery, mother of three boys with an exciting bundle of love on the way and Hope just moved from D.C. to BoonsBoro, who now works as the inn keeper.

“Love runs the engine”

We follow Avery MacTavish who has never had any time to slow down. She runs the local pizza shop that always seems to be busy and every once in a while does she get a short pause to enjoy the little things in life. With a plan in mind, she wants nothing more than to take over an empty lot, the Montgomery family purchased, to turn into the restaurant of her dreams. But despite all of her planning, she never imagine Owen Montgomery, her lifelong crush, to play such a huge roll in her future. Owen Montgomery has had everything planned down to the final details with a backup plan in store. While the inn keeps him busy, he can’t stop his eyes or his mind from wandering to Avery MacTavish. Despite all of his fine planning, he never imagined Avery coming into to life and shaking up every plan for the future he’s ever had. Together, they’ll navigate what it means to be in a relationship and show each other that their future plans can include one another.

I said this before with the first book, but I’ll say it again here, I love all of these characters. They’re so thoroughly developed and you really get a feeling of who they are as individuals, but also when certain characters come together into the relationships forming. I also really love how we have a character who has some obsessive compulsive disorder aspects. Even though it’s minor, it’s still nice to see that kind of representation.

Of course, I have to talk about the family dynamics. Oh wow, when I say this book hits close to home, damn if it doesn’t hit close to home. For starters, Justine Montgomery is a character that deserves so much praise. Not only is she a widow and raise her three boys into wonderful men, but she’s a business woman and doesn’t tolerate any b.s. from anyone. She also talks about what it means to want companionship after the death of her husband. This leads to her having a conversation with Owen about her expressing her feelings and how she wants to have some fun in her life again, with a certain Will B. MacTavish, Avery’s father. Speaking of the MacTavish family, Avery’s mother walked out of her life at a very young age and was raised by her father, Willy B. Every time I read about Avery being raised by her father, my heart gets all warm for all the dad parents out there who are doing it all on their own. Single dads don’t get the spotlight they truly deserve and I’m glad we have such a strong, positive father-daughter relationship in this book. And when I mean this book hits close to home, even though I was raised in a single mother household, my father walked out on my life at a young age too. So it lands a certain way especially after Avery’s mother does come back into the picture and boy, it hit so hard. So you really see some great family dynamics in this book and I’m just really appreciative that there’s so much positivity, but it also shows the reality and the hardships that come with them.

What I love most about this book is the way Owen and Avery balance each other out. They’re so similar, yet so different in so many ways. Together, they’re like this unstoppable force that keep each other held together with love and determination. Without Owen, Avery would probably run herself into the ground and without Avery, Owen would never branch outside of his plans. Out of all of the couples in this trilogy, I truly love and appreciate the way Owen and Avery work. Plus, their conversations and the way their intimate scenes are set up, they hit all my expectations. And I also have to appreciate the way Avery’s father reminds Owen that even though she has the nickname, “Little Red Engine,” she still has bruises deep within her and Owen really provides a space where Avery can drop all her barriers, to show her vulnerable side.

“I want you to be careful with her, Owen. She’s had other boyfriends, but you’re different. You’ve got history and connections, and she’s had a sweet-on going. She’s tough, my girl, but she’s got places that bruise easy. It’s easy to forget that, so…don’t. I guess that’s it.”

This book also tackles so many important things that I don’t often find in the romance books I read. We really see Avery and Owen try to navigate what it means to love someone since childhood into adulthood and more so from Avery’s part, but trying to believe you’re worthy of love when someone who should have loved you and been there for you, rejects you. Now, I also want to state a warning, there is also a scene where abortion is talked about and it brings up a lot of discussion of pro-choice, pro-life, and when we should or shouldn’t include someone in these situations. I’m not going to talk about my feelings or opinions on that one, but there’s a whole scene of that in the book and it’s there to spark neutral discussion. I’ll just say this, there’s a lot of themes revolving around Avery’s mother that are there to spark discussion among readers.

“No matter how bad things are, and sometimes they were bad in our house, you want your mother to be there, to love you. And when she doesn’t, you feel . . . less.”

The only reason this book didn’t get the five stars is of course, the paranormal element. I truly believe this would have been better without the paranormal element. While it doesn’t bother me that it’s there, it feels like it’s unnecessary at times. However, I understand why the paranormal element was thrown in and I know many readers love it. For this particular series, the paranormal element just doesn’t work for me. If you’re not a fan of paranormal elements, out of all the books in this trilogy, this book has the least amount of paranormal in it.

Overall, I love this series so much and I really love this particular book. I just really love the positive representation of family dynamics, the way Owen and Avery mesh so well together, and of course, Justine Montgomery throwing her wild business plans all over the place. It’s just a really fun time and it’s just my favorite of all three of these books. I mentioned in my review of the first book that I get asked about Nora Roberts all the time and I truly think this is one of the best series you should read if you’re new to Nora Roberts. It’s just a great way to be introduced to her writing and the way she tends to write couples. Ugh, I truly love this series with my whole heart.

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The Next Always (Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy #1) by Nora Roberts

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Death/loss of a loved one, grief, assault, talk of domestic violence, misogynistic language, sexist language, stalking

“I’ve wanted to be with you when I didn’t have the right to.”

Friends, if you’ve been here a while then you probably already know I’m a reader of Nora Roberts. Yes, yes, I know. I have heard it all. That’s not the point. I grew up on Nora Roberts. In fact, I’m a third generation reader of Nora Roberts so it’s only natural that I would read her books. So if you’re one of many who have followed me from the very beginning, then you probably already know what I’m about to say. That I love the Inn BoonsBoro series with my whole heart and soul, and if you were thinking about trying to read some books by Nora Roberts, the Inn BoonsBoro trilogy is a perfect place to start!

💐 Beckett Montgomery – Architect in the Montgomery family, social life consists of talking shop over pizza and beer with his brothers, and has been waiting to kiss Clare Brewster since they were sixteen.

💐 Clare Brewster – Widowed mother of three, Harry, Liam, and Murphy, runs the town bookstore, and absolutely in love with the inn the Montgomery family is fixing up and might be falling in love with a certain architect.

💐 Sam Freemont – The antagonist, a know womanizer and abusive partner known among BoonsBoro town folk, has his eyes set on Clare and refuses to take the hint of rejection, but soon starts forming a plan.

💐 Elizabeth – The spirit who lives at the historical inn the Montgomery family is fixing up.

💐 Justine Montgomery – Sassy mother of the Montgomery brothers and the head boss over every project the Montgomery boys take on.

💐 Owen & Ryder Montgomery – Brothers to Beckett Montgomery, Owen the organizer, the softest boy, and Ryder the muscles, the alpha male, of the Montgomery family.

💐 Avery MacTavish & Hope Beaumont – Best friends to Clare Brewster. Avery owns the local pizza shop and Hope just moved from D.C. to BoonsBoro for a fresh start.

I love all of these characters (except Sam Freemont)! They’re wonderful, they truly paint the picture of a family who takes care of one another no matter what. It was everything my heart needed and loves to read about! Plus, the family dynamics are wonderful and shows them in such positive lights.

“That’s possible to likely. We’re involved, you and me. I’m telling you what I’m going to do because I figure when people are involved, when they matter, they tell each other.”

The Next Always follow our two main characters, Beckett Montgomery and Clare Brewster, as they navigate the challenges in their life, but navigate the road of romance to find one another. Beckett is trying to manage the challenges that come with rebuilding an inn, but also navigating the heart of a widowed mother who is too busy to consider love and romance. Clare is a busy mom of three sons, the owner of the local bookstore, and dealing with a creep who won’t take no for an answers. The last thing Clare has on her mind is starting a romance with anyone, let alone Beckett Montgomery, but sometimes the heart wants what it wants.

I say this all the time, I love this trilogy, the characters, the world building, and relationships. For those who didn’t know, the inn that’s talked about throughout this whole trilogy is an actual inn in BoonsBoro, Maryland that you can stay at or tour. While I haven’t been there myself, just from the photos alone and their website, it looks like an absolute dream!

This book also discusses many topics. For example, what it means to leave home to start a family and when it feels like you have no place to go, you can always go back home. That’s one of the main themes throughout this book, no matter what, you can always go home. This book also talks about what it means to be a single parent and how there are many challenges a single parent faces. I do say it often, I am from a single parent home and I watched my parent struggle with fiances, dating, and feeling like the only person they could rely on was themselves. And I think Clare’s character really opens the floor up for discussion for single parents and the hardships they may face.

“Harry, I promised you something. I said I’d clear it with you before I asked your mom to marry me. I need you to tell me it’s okay if I do.”

I also really love how you get the true feeling of small community and small town vibes with this book. When you read this book, you get a sense of everyone looks after one another. Also true to small towns, you pick up on how fast “gossip” flies around BoonsBoro in this book. Not only that, the description of the book store, the pizza shop, and the inn are so vividly described that it feels like you’re walking around BoonsBoro.

I also want to take a moment to talk about the problem with Sam Freemont and the way Clare handles the situation with Sam Freemont. I think this might be something that causes a lot of readers to have an issue with this book or cause dislike. So, I thought I would come in and give a little perspective from someone who has experienced the things Sam Freemont does is this book. Of course, please make sure you practice self-care while reading the sections. Sam Freemont is a character in this book who has always been given everything he wants and if he can’t have it, he takes it. Sam’s character starts off as a narcissist, but over time escalates to stalker, but eventually develops to showing signs of psychopathic traits. Sam refuses to hear Clare’s rejects, refuses to take a hint, and it has been indicated that Clare has been hiding the situation from everyone, including her best friends. As someone who has gone through having a stalker and people in my life showing psychopathic traits, Clare’s action or natural response is an accurate representation of those who have gone through these situations. It’s not the correct response, but it is accurate and valid because most of the time, you convince yourself it’ll stop all on it’s own.

Despite all the things that happen within this book, I think the part that dulled my experience was the paranormal element in this book. When I first read this book, I was head over heels and while I still love this trilogy, the paranormal element wasn’t my favorite part. I think if it was removed, I would have been able to give this the five stars I had originally gave it.

Overall, this was a reread for one of my favorite series and even though it only got four stars, I still love this series. I’m always asked what is the best place to start with Nora Roberts books and I will always say this series. The family dynamic will have you falling in love, small town vibes, there’s an inn involved, and characters you will love with your whole heart. There’s something in here for everyone and I just can’t stop recommending it.

Read for the Stay Home Reading Rush 📖

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